N.S. Department of Justice accepts recommendations on cyberbullying, online abuse

·3 min read
Brad Johns is Nova Scotia's justice minister. He said the consultations his department has done make him believe the act is working as it should. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Brad Johns is Nova Scotia's justice minister. He said the consultations his department has done make him believe the act is working as it should. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice announced Wednesday it's planning to implement all of the recommendations from a recent review of the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act.

The 12 recommendations focus on improving awareness of the act and increasing supports for victims of cyberbullying or intimate image sharing.

"What we've found by doing the consultation is that the act is meeting what it's supposed to be doing. It is meeting a balance between … freedom of expression while still maintaining protection for the individual," said Justice Minister and Attorney General Brad Johns.

The Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act was passed in 2018. It replaced the 2013 Cyber-safety Act which was created after the highly publicized death of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old girl who was bullied after fellow students circulated an explicit photo of her online. She subsequently died after attempting suicide in 2013.

Nova Scotia's Supreme Court struck down the original law in 2015 because it infringed on charter rights.

The review is mandated by the legislation, and was completed with the help of public consultation. Johns said feedback came from around 400 participants, including Indigenous people, African Nova Scotians and Acadians.

He said the recommendations are all "very doable" and could be completed over the next year. They include:

  • Increasing knowledge of the act, both for victims and their rights, and consequences for perpetrators.

  • Increasing awareness of the CyberScan unit which supports victims.

  • Increasing legal, mental health and community supports for victims.

  • Training CyberScan staff on trauma-informed and restorative approaches.

  • Working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development on youth supports.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Wayne MacKay, who chaired the provincial Cyberbullying Task Force, said the recommendations are quite general, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

"They're on point and on important matters, but they're very general and give a lot of flexibility to the government to tick off the recommendations without necessarily doing a lot," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Thursday.

Nova Scotia created a CyberScan unit in 2013 and reorganized it after the original cyberbulling act was struck down. It helps victims of cyberbullying or non-consensual image sharing with legal information, support resources and dispute-resolution services. Anyone in Nova Scotia can use the services of CyberScan which has opened 703 cases between July 2018 and March 2022, according to the new review.

MacKay said although CyberScan does provide important remedies, the recommendations failed to make it more accessible.

"They should have made recommendations more directly about expanding the powers of CyberScan so that people who can't afford the money and time to go to courts can still get a significant remedy," he said.

The recommendations for more trauma-informed supports are a positive step, said Alec Stratford, the executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers. However, he said the review is treating the symptoms of a larger problem instead of looking at the root cause.

"What we often fail to focus on is that these acts, which are again predominantly impacting children and youth, are a reflection of the broader social inequalities that exist in our society," Stratford said.

He said he'd like to see more programming for youth that addresses mental health, healthy relationships and consent.

Johns said in accordance with the recommendations, the department will be increasing mental health support for victims, and education programs have been rolled out since the act was passed in 2018.

"There have been well over 500 cyber safety presentations in schools and throughout the community. So we are getting out there trying to be proactive."